“That When A Lady Lifts Her Skirt, She Shoots A Horrid Yankee.” The Story Of Confederate Women’s Urine And The Manufacture Of Gunpowder.

Belle Boyd Southern Spy
Belle Boyd Southern Spy


One of the memes about the Civil War that frequently circulates is that the South was dirt poor and the North was fairly affluent. This was mostly true. It followed then that most of the industry, especially the extremely technical industries like chemical manufacturing, or steel working would be in the industrial northeast. So the Confederates were stumped when they were looking for sources of saltpeter, or nitre, or potassium nitrate, the third ingredient in gun-powder. The answer came from an inventor.


A chemist named Jonathan Harrolson in 1863 figured out how to create more potassium nitrate or nitre by extracting it from urine. The men were all away fighting. But women could collect their urine out of bedpans and pour it into a huge truck pulled by a horse around town and they would make potassium nitrate out of it. A request as placed in the Selma Alabama newspaper and apparently it worked.


So various people on both sides wrote limericks about the phenomenon.



From the Confederates: “An appeal to Jonathan Harrolson

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, you are a wretched creature,
You’ve added to this war a new and awful feature,
You’d have us think while every man is bound to be a fighter,
The ladies, bless their pretty dears, should save their p** for nitre,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, where did you get this notion,
To send your barrel around the town to gather up this lotion,
We thought the girls had work enough in making shirts and kissing,
But you have put the pretty dears to patriotic pissing,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, do pray invent a neater
And somewhat less immodest mode of making your saltpeter,
For “tis an awful idea, John, gunpowdery and cranky,
That when a lady lifts her skirt, she’s killing off a Yankee.

They say there is a subtle smell
That lingers in the powder;
That when the smoke grows thicker,
And the din of the battle louder
That there is found to this compound
One serious objection;
A soldier can not sniff it
Without having an erection.


From the Union


John Harrelson, John Harrelson, we’ve read in song and story
How a women’s tears through all the years have moistened fields of glory,
But never was it told before, how, ‘mid such scenes of slaughter,
Your Southern beauties dried their tears and went to making water,
No wonder that your boys are brave, who couldn’t be a fighter,
If every time he shot a gun he used his sweethearts nitre ?
And, vice-versa, what could make a Yankee soldier sadder,
Than dodging bullets fired by a pretty woman’s bladder.


Sources: Wikipedia; http://1858remington.com; YouTube


And here is the song played on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QUG2U5AYVpk


5 thoughts on ““That When A Lady Lifts Her Skirt, She Shoots A Horrid Yankee.” The Story Of Confederate Women’s Urine And The Manufacture Of Gunpowder.”

  1. Dr Coyle DeMoss

    When I was in Medical School our physiology professor came in and recited this without a hitch. I normally recorded all lectures, so I copied this.
    I still like to recite it once in a while. 40 years later.

  2. Pingback: Early gunpowder was made from the 'pisse' of church ladies, and other historical tidbits | Chicago Reader

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